It’s time to plant the vegetables. But does the thought of all that work get you going or get you groaning?

This spring, especially, has been difficult because of all the rain. We can’t plant on a day that’s too rainy; yet rainy is about the only kind of day we’ve had to plant.

The good news is that there’s still time. I’d like to share some hints and tips with you to make planting and growing vegetables a bit easier. Many of these hints come from “Rodale’s Low-Maintenance Gardening Techniques,” edited by Barbara Ellis, Joan Benjamin, and Deborah Martin, published in 1995 by Rodale Press. I am immediately attracted to anything “low maintenance.” If you are, too, then these tips might be just what you’re looking for.

If you’re preparing a new vegetable bed, make sure you’re choosing the location based on the ideal conditions for the plants; not because it will look best on the north side behind the garage in the gravel pit. Make sure the bed gets at least six hours of sun and good drainage. Do not locate it too close to large trees whose roots will compete for water and nutrients.

If you don’t have an ideal location for a vegetable garden, you still have several options for homegrown flavor and convenience. Try using containers to grow your favorites. A five-gallon bucket – an inexpensive home improvement store purchase – makes a perfect container for most. Just be sure to drill drainage holes in the bottom.

If you’ll be moving your containers to chase the sunshine, you may want to put them on bases with wheels. You can purchase these or make them yourself. Of course, an alternative is to put your pots in a child’s wagon or in a wheelbarrow for instant mobility.

Another way to fit vegetables into your landscape is to plant them among your flowers. With its textured deep green leaves and bright stems, Swiss chard forms an attractive border for many flowers. Radishes, frilly leaf lettuce, and snap beans are all good candidates for your flowerbeds.

I’ve mentioned no-dig garden beds before but it’s worth repeating – many times. Once you’ve chosen your site, mow it as low as you can set the blade. Spread multiple layers of newspaper over the area and water well. Cover the paper with at least two inches of a compost and soil mixture. After the mix is raked out, water and wait a couple of days, and then plant. For the first couple of years, you can grow anything but long-rooted crops like carrots. Be sure to add more soil and compost each year. What a time saver!

If your soil is atrocious and you don’t have the bucks or the back to get it into shape, try this interesting hint: Place bales of straw over the area you wish to plant. Cover the straw with at least two inches of compost or compost/soil mix. Then plant your seeds. Tomatoes and even vining plants such as squash and melons grow well in this manner, particularly if you make holes in the straw and add composted manure and soil to the holes before planting.

I mentioned adding Swiss chard to your flowerbeds. If you have never eaten this vegetable, I encourage you to give it a try this year. It is extremely easy to grow, even in poor soil. You can cook and eat both the leaves and stalks or eat the leaves raw in salad. The “bright lights” variety has colorful red and gold stems, adding to its appeal.

You can plant Swiss chard as soon as the soil can be worked but it is not too late to plant some now. Available for harvest about a month after planting, Swiss chard will continue to grow all season. Just be sure to keep the outer stalks cut.

Don’t forget to water the plants or they may turn bitter mid-summer. Swiss chard reaches its full flavor when the weather cools. It will withstand nighttime temperatures down to the upper twenties. Even if the outer leaves are killed by frost, the inner leaves are often still good.


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